WHO Calls Asymptomatic Spread of COVID-19 Unlikely

Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization has stated that spread of COVID-19 by asymptomatic carriers “appears to be rare”. Kerkhove, who heads the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, made the remarks Monday during a briefing in Geneva. A reporter asked Kerkhove specifically about the subject, and she confirmed that her statements didn’t reflect official WHO policy.

Maria Van Kerkhove

Kerkhove Explains the Spread

In Geneva, Kerkhove responded to a reporter by explaining how the WHO has traced the spread of the disease. “We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases, they’re following contacts and they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It is very rare — and much of that is not published in the literature,” Kerkhove stated.

“We are constantly looking at this data and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.”

The Likelihood of Transmission

The WHO has stated that the most likely way to transmit COVID is through respiratory droplets. As such, people who are sneezing or coughing are more likely to spread the disease.

This is why face coverings are favored in situations where social distancing is difficult. Face-to-face interaction becomes much safer when there is a lower risk of respiratory droplets entering the environment.

This is likely why asymptomatic carriers are at a lower risk of spreading the disease. One of the common symptoms of the disease is a dry, persistent cough.

That very cough serves to spread the disease by spraying respiratory droplets into the air. If a carrier develops no cough, it is much more difficult for them to spread the disease.

Not Cause for Celebration

However, many have noted that there is a distinction between asymptomatic carriers and presymptomatic carriers. People who never develop symptoms are asymptomatic and are at very low risk of spreading the disease. People who do eventually develop symptoms are presymptomatic and could spread the disease before manifesting symptoms.

This is a serious issue. Before symptoms show up, it’s impossible to tell whether a patient is presymptomatic or asymptomatic. As such, the WHO still recommends that people practice social distancing and wear face coverings.

As such, this means that there is no cause for celebration. Current measures to slow the spread, including social distancing and contact tracing, should continue. Until there is a vaccine ready for the public, COVID will remain a pressing public health concern.